When Mel DeGagne closed the doors to Nor-Fab’s truss plant a few years ago, it became Brian Hagarty’s dream to reopen the business.
Now under a new name, Hagarty and his partner, James Mainville, have opened Titan Manufacturing on Highway 11/71 just west of Fort Frances.
“Nor-Fab’s truss plant had been here since, I think since ’84, when Mel DeGagne started it,” Hagarty noted.
“I ran the plant for him through the ’90s for about 10 years. I had been gone since 2003.
“I came back in 2013 just with the idea of buying it, wondering if it was viable or not,” added Hagarty, saying DeGagne shut the plant down sometime thereafter.
He said this is because the construction market tends to fluctuate.
“It’s not unusual for housing to come and go,” Hagarty explained.
“At one time, there was 180 people working at Nor-Fab,” he noted. “Most of that was U.S.-bound.
“But with the 30-cent dollar the way it is right now, we’re hoping we can get back to that,” added Hagarty, saying he believes general construction is starting to come back in Canada.
“There’s a need in the district for trusses, that’s for sure,” he reasoned. “The lumber yards and homeowners have been bringing trusses in from Duluth.
“So there is a local market here that is looking for that product.”
Hagarty also said there’s lots of positive things going on in the district, especially with New Gold’s Rainy River Project, where currently they’re hiring for 97 positions.
“We’d like to see those 97 job opening turn into 97 houses,” he remarked.
“So that, combined with the general sense of where construction is going, allowed for room for another truss plant,” said Hagarty, noting the closest truss plant in Canada is Thunder Bay or Winnipeg and they both are fairly busy.
Hagarty and Mainville purchased the property on May 28.
“We’ve been coming at it fairly quietly just to get started,” he said. “Because the building had been shut down, we wanted to make sure the equipment was up and running and everything was back in an operational state before we started letting customers know we were around so we didn’t get inundated.
“But we have been building,” Hagarty stressed. “For the last three weeks, we’ve had a fair bit of orders from the local lumber yard and some direct sales.”
While roof and floor trusses are their principle product, Titan is manufacturing all kinds of pre-fab products.
“So garden sheds, outhouses, we’re probably going to get into picnic tables,” said Hagarty.
“Basically if it’s made out of wood, we’ll do it.”
They also will build pre-fab walls and other buildings. They’re hoping to get into making play houses and already have done a dog house for one customer.
“We’re a little late getting started,” Hagarty admitted, referring to the building season.
“We were hoping to basically take over in February, which would have meant by May we would have been up and running,” he noted, adding they had a few delays with severing the property and whatnot.
“Not getting the property until late May, June kind of came and went before we really had the equipment up and running.”
Nonetheless, they’re now hard at work and already have a staff of eight employees.
“We’ve hired some of the old staff and some new staff,” Hagarty noted.
“We have an engineer who is originally from Toronto. He’s going to school in Thunder Bay right now.
“He’s here doing our designs. He’ll be moving to the area once he graduates,” said Hagarty.
They also are hoping to be able to expand their workforce to at least 15 by next year.
“Over the years, Nor-Fab was a large supplier of entry-level jobs, so taking unskilled workers,” Hagarty recalled.
“Our focus is going to be a little different than that,” he noted. “We’re looking to attract perhaps a smaller, more skilled workforce, as opposed to a larger, unskilled force.
“But nonetheless, those are jobs that weren’t here before.”
Hagarty said they did some renovations to the building and modernized some of the equipment.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how technical this business is,” he remarked. “They think it’s two guys and a hammer.
“It’s not,” Hagarty stressed. “We have a computerized saw that sets itself up and does all its cuts automatically.
“We have two laser projection systems that project the shape of the truss onto the table before it is pressed.
“I think people are surprised by the level of technology that goes into this type of operation,” he noted. “The days of it being some guys with a hammer and nails are long gone.
“It’s a very technical field.”
Hagarty said they had an efficiency expert out teaching them lean manufacturing, which is a systematic method for the elimination of waste within a manufacturing process.
They also have some autoCAD design training coming up in a couple of weeks.
The building industry is constantly changing and evolving,” Hagarty said, admitting they have some obstacles.
“We have a shrinking supply of wood products in North America,” he noted, adding trusses typically are built from old-growth forests, so all of the lumber basically comes from B.C.
“And that supply is dwindling so inventors have to keep in mind what we might do with less.
“We’re seeing more and more OSB products on the market,” added Hagarty. “You’re seeing more and more products were wood is glued as opposed to just using the raw materials.
“I think any manufacturer has to keep an eye for what might be the next big thing,” he reasoned.
“We don’t quite know what that will be yet but we’re going to be on it.”
Hagarty said purchasing the business was a big undertaking.
“It took us a few years to pull the deal together,” he remarked, noting they couldn’t have done it without Jane Gillon’s help (Ministry of Northern Development and Mines), the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., and Eric Blondin of TD here.
Nor-Fab still is continuing with its system build homes on the adjacent property, so Hagarty and Mainville chose a new name for the business as a way to start out fresh.
“We’ve had a few people ask why Titan,” Hagarty noted. “Quite literally, we had a list of about 15 names on our board at home and that’s what we ended up choosing.
“We wanted something catchy,” he said, adding they’re excited about what the future of the business holds.
“It’s been a dream of ours,” Hagarty enthused. “Sometimes when the dream is here, it’s a little overwhelming.
“But we’re building a good team and hopefully we can make it like a family business, where we have people who are looking at this as a career opportunity to get involved in the ground floor of something big.
“It’s a new name right now, but we’re hoping in a few years it’s a name that people know,” Hagarty said.